Twice a year, firearm enthusiasts meet at the Knob Creek Gun Range in Bullitt County, Kentucky, for an event billed “the world’s largest machine-gun shoot.” Visitors can avail themselves of a wide variety of powerful weapons, including magazine-fed and belt-fed machine guns, automatic rifles from the 1930s, and more exotic artillery, like a full-size cannon.
Buying and using high-powered weaponry can be an expensive hobby: for example, an NFA Class III arm — the category under which machine guns fall — can go for $20,000 or more, says an attendee, who, like many at the event, prefers to remain anonymous. Those guns can put out more than 600 rounds per minute, at a cost of at least 20 cents a round. (Visitors who do not own such guns have the opportunity to rent and shoot at a separate range.) Steve Sumner, a member of the family that owns the range, claims that shooting machine guns is “the fastest way to turn money into noise.”
Sumner is in charge of “demolition,” a job that entails stocking up the range with targets and priming them with explosives. He and his team place decommissioned kitchen appliances, cars mangled from collisions, and the odd trailer or boat down range, then position barrels with a signature mix of diesel, gasoline, fertilizer, and dynamite around them. When shooters hit their marks, the resulting fireballs can easily top 100 feet, to the delight of the crowd. During the shoot’s lunch break, observers can get a better look at the weaponry involved and then walk down range to get a firsthand glimpse of the carnage the bullets have inflicted on their targets.
There’s also an arms market, where visitors can purchase rifles, ammo, and military paraphernalia, as well as a small-caliber gun range for the younger crowd. The weekend’s main events are the night shoots, during which the explosions take on an extra-vivid hue and the image of tracer bullets cutting through the night resembles a scene from a war movie.
By and large, a jovial atmosphere presides at the range; good-natured attendees seem happy to chat about their enthusiasm for guns.